Re-investigating Tilaurakot's Ancient Fortifications: a preliminary report of excavations through the northern rampart at Tilaurakot(Nepal)



Davis C, Coningham R, Acharya KP, Simpson I, Tremblay J, Kunwar RB, Manuel M, Bahadur K & Basanta B (2016) Re-investigating Tilaurakot's Ancient Fortifications: a preliminary report of excavations through the northern rampart at Tilaurakot(Nepal). Ancient Nepal, (190), pp. 30-46.

First paragraph: Urban settlements defined by fortification complexes have long been identified as one of the key indicators of the emergence and spread of the Early Historic Tradition across South Asia (Coningham 1995). Whilst performing defensive functions, city walls and moats are also thought to have prevented disruption to a settlement from natural forces, such as erosion and flooding (Narain and Roy 1977: 7, Coningham 1999: 54), as well as protecting settlements and crops grown within a city's boundary from wild animals (Coningham 1999: 56). Furthermore, some have argued that ramparts and moats also fulfilled symbolic functions and a number of settlement layouts have been thought to exhibit cosmomagical symbolism (Wheatley 1971: 481), with urban forms constructed as microcosms of the universe. Indeed, there are a number of South Asian examples where urban rampart and moat complexes are believed to have formed key cosmological motifs, representing the ocean and mountain range surrounding the universe (Coningham 2000). With a central role thus implied for the royal palace as representing Mount Meru, the dwelling of the Gods at the centre of the universe, this also portrayed the temporal ruler as a universal ruler or chakravartin (Wheatley 1971: 437, Coningham 2000: 350). Early Historic texts, such as the Arthasastra and Manasara, provided clear instructions for the construction of moats and ramparts, with the Arthasastra stating that a city should be quadrangular, surrounded by three moats and a rampart {Arthasastra 2.3.4-6) and be internally demarcated by cardinally orientated roads and gateways {Arthasastra 2.4.1-2). Similarly, the Manasara suggested that cities should be furnished with a quadrangular wall with an accompanying ditch surrounding the settlement with a gate at each cardinal direction {Manasara 9.107-109). It is now clear from its urban plan, that Tilaurakot, in southern Nepal, seemingly aligns with these precepts as it possesses an almost quadrangular fortification (Figure 1) and the results of recent geophysical survey suggest that cardinally-orientated roads were laid out in a grid within the city (Coningham et al. 2015).

Ancient Nepal, Issue 190

Publication date30/04/2016
Date accepted by journal01/03/2016
PublisherDepartment of Archaeology
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Professor Ian Simpson

Professor Ian Simpson

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences